Books VS Football: An Outsiders’ View
Above the city you could hear the roar; I couldn’t help but hear England’s win against Colombia. There were crowds outside pubs and opposite me even the supposedly sophisticated cocktail bar had lugged a screen onto its terrace. It was as if the whole city was watching the football on this hot summer night.
I’d just been to get the sign-off on my healed eyesight, and had drops in, so I couldn’t read or watch TV. Not that I’d have been watching the football; I’d have been reading the fourth volume of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose quintet. Not one single member of my family had ever expressed any kind of interest in sport. My school did not allow a choice of football but rugby only, and cricket was of course compulsory. I defaulted to books from the earliest age, and still do. Whether you’re waiting in a hospital or a post office books calm you down.
I was 12 when we won the World Cup, and I don’t remember a thing about it. I vaguely knew we were playing something important and then we’d won, but that’s all. I was probably at the library.
To be honest football looks kind of fun if you were in the arena-thing watching, although my mate Paco says he was penned inside a chicken-wire enclosure in Spain, and was most put out; the animated ads running around the edges of the pitch must put players off. They put me off. I get confused about penalties but the whole thing is generally quite involving. I wouldn’t sit in front of a telly to watch it, though. I’d go for the counter-programming; the history of art or something.
And then everyone thinks you’re being a snob – but I’m not, I’m just not especially interested in football, and more interested in, say, cinema or theatre. Given the price of ringside (wait, that’s boxing) seats football actually seems a lot more expensive than going to the Old Vic to see Ibsen.
But I like the fact that it’s a communal activity; I think reading is probably seen as isolating and a bit selfish.
The international teams are all jumbled up with each other’s players, so having an international competition seems ridiculous now, and the Americans play a version in which they dress up as if they’re going to the moon or something, after which they spend years remembering the crucial pass they missed, according to old movies.
Plus I do object when taxi drivers and barbers automatically assume I’m watching the football. I know about matches because I read the papers, but I can’t hold a conversation on the subject because I’ll get found out in seconds. A friend of mine blew his cover when he described one player’s manoeuvres as ‘utterly delightful’, not a phrase you hear much on a cabbie’s tongue.
The reverse is even more true. Books, it turns out, frighten many people. They feel unable to have a discussion about them, and apologise for what they read when they should be proud for reading at all. Books are more egalitarian than non-readers realise. We don’t care whether you read Harry Potter or Proust, you’re reading and enjoying it, and that’s all that matters. I suppose it’s like supporting Crystal Palace or Charlton; you’re enjoying the game.
Just try to keep it down a bit; I’m on a really good chapter.